Email encryption is an important line of defense for your business communications. Using email encryption helps organizations to prevent hackers from accessing private information when it is sent, shared, and transferred.

Is email encryption secure? Encrypted emails, if they are end-to-end encrypted, are secure throughout the entire email life cycle; from sending the email to archiving the email, it remains secure.

What Is Email Encryption?

Email encryption is much like any other form of encryption; it obfuscates the content of a message using cryptography to protect emails from theft or eavesdropping.

Traditional email is sent via plain text. This means that it travels over internet lines without encryption protections. Should anyone intercept that data and look at it, they could immediately read it. By encrypting messages, organizations can protect themselves from accidentally disclosing sensitive data.

Email is a specific form of communication that includes hidden metadata and command terms that also need to be encrypted. A few types of cryptography algorithms operate specifically for email.

Top Email Encryption Services for Business Communications

These protocols include the following:

Transport Layer Security

TLS is the successor to the Secure Sockets Layer protocol. Introduced in 1999 by the Internet Engineering Task Force, TLS essentially applies encryption to transmit messages through a TLS tunneling technique: Neither sender nor receiver needs to implement it. The most common form of TLS used in communications is STARTTLS.

Pretty Good Privacy

PGP was released as an open-source technology in 1991 and thus as a free and public form of public-key cryptography. Essentially, PGP uses the unique properties of prime numbers to encode data for a user before sending it via email. The PGP scheme creates two “keys” for a user. The public key encodes data, while the private key decodes data.

Under this schema, users make their public key available to the public. Anyone who wants to send a message uses the PGP algorithms and the public key to encrypt their file. Once the receiving user gets the message, they can use their private key to decode it. Only the private key of a given pair can decode information encrypted with the public key, and it is all but impossible to reverse engineer one key from the other with current computing technology.

In order to facilitate the above, PGP uses what is known as “end-to-end” cryptography.

Secure Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension

Also created by the IETF, S/MIME functions similarly to PGP but uses different encryption methods to support multimedia files. S/MIME is most often used for enterprise email providers.

TLS security is commonly used for general-purpose emailing, and additional encryption for messages on servers is left for unique platforms.

Why Is Email Encryption Challenging?

Because there is a difference between encryption for emails during transmission and in the server, protecting that information requires two approaches:

  1. The first uses TLS to protect information during transmission. Because technologies like STARTTLS do not require data encryption at the server, STARTTLS (or other versions of TLS) is commonly used, or at least offered, by many private and public services.
  2. The second uses PGP and/or S/MIME (or another form of encryption) to protect data before and after it is transmitted.

The second approach is much harder to implement than the first. In order to implement proper encryption like PGP, both the sender and the receiver must use the same protocol. That means they must use an application that includes such technology or a platform that implements it.

The challenge is that most users, especially consumers, use various third-party mail providers, like Google Gmail or Microsoft Outlook. More often than not, these providers do not offer compatibility with end-to-end encryption methods.

Who Should Use Email Encryption?

On paper, most email compliance standards require some form of cryptography to protect personally identifiable information (PII) during transmission and when it is stored on the server. This requirement is no different for emails. Regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), and the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) call for some form of encryption.

However, messages in public services are rarely, if ever, encrypted at the server. This means that any message sent from a regulated organization would eventually end up on an unsecure server.

Consider a hospital sending protected health information (PHI) to a patient under their care. Under HIPAA regulations, PHI must always be stored in encrypted servers. However, these hospitals have no control over the types of email that their patients use, which means that they run the risk of exposing PHI and breaching compliance standards.

With that in mind, any organization handling sensitive information should use encrypted email. These organizations, however, have limited options when dealing with patients, consumers, or unregulated organizations:

  • Shared email platforms: Email platforms can serve a useful purpose for organizations to control who uses them and how they are used. Utilization of shared platforms helps organizations control how messages are encrypted and sent.
  • Secure email links: Since it is much easier to protect a central server, rather than attempt to coordinate secure practices, many organizations turn to content management platforms that send links over public email.

    These links direct users back to a portal to provide authentication credentials. As a result, data remains secure and organizations can send compliant messages to anyone regardless of their provider.

Generally speaking, different industries and regulations will require different levels of encryption for emails, many of which aren’t practicable for organizations to use as a communication method outside of their organization. That’s why many organizations, especially in areas like finance and healthcare, turn to secure email links with AES-256 encrypted servers to protect data without exposing it through email.

How Automated Encryption Delivers Improved Privacy Protection and Compliance

Kiteworks Platform

There are a lot of different options when it comes to email encryption solutions. Kiteworks is more than an email provider​​—it serves as a content communications platform used for governance, compliance, and security related to the sending and receipt of sensitive content into, within, and out of an organization. Kiteworks secure email provides enterprise-grade encryption and uniform security controls either via an email encryption gateway and standard email clients without plugins or through a Microsoft Outlook plugin, web application, enterprise application plugin, or mobile applications. It also delivers role-based policy automation to ensure security and compliance of an organization’s most sensitive information.

The decision to encrypt or not for each email is based on automated policies rather than users and plugins, which frees up IT resources. Metadata and syslogs across all sensitive content email track all malicious exposure of private information. Existing security investments in threat scanning, anti-malware, continuous data protection (CDP), and data loss prevention (DLP) bolsters protection for inbound email communications.

Kiteworks also includes enterprise features like analytics, unlimited messaging, a 16 TB file size limit, and automated managed file transfer capabilities.

Email Encryption Comes in Critical for Modern Business

Email is a critical channel for sensitive content communications, internally and externally. Unifying, tracking, controlling, and securing those email communications is pivotal to managing compliance and risk effectively and efficiently. Email encryption for sensitive content communications is a requisite. There are various facets that an organization needs to consider when selecting the right email encryption solution. This includes the flexibility of different options needed to address different use cases.

One at the forefront for many organizations is the ability to send and receive encrypted email with third parties that uses a different encryption standard. In the past, organizations would revert to cumbersome plugins and even redirects to log into file-sharing solutions for those sends. But these manual options are not user-friendly and create various inefficiencies.

To learn how Kiteworks automates sending and receipt of email regardless of the encryption standard that is used, schedule a personalized demo.

 

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